Monday, February 13, 2006 17:17 IST
by Subhash K Jha
Who's that dark brooding guy in Rang De Basanti? Rakeysh Mehra chose himto play the confused capitalist Karan Singhania because of his vulnerable boyish looks. But Siddharth has no intentionsof moving bag and baggageto Mumbai to pursue a career.
"Has Rang De Basanti been well-received?" he asks curiously from the South. "I'm glad. We all worked hard on, but specially Rakeysh Mehra and Aamir Khan. I was with the project for just six months. But they nurtured it together for three years. Siddharth is practical enough to realizethere isn't a clamour of filmmakers waiting forhim in Bollywood.
"But of course I'm open to good offers. The only problem," hereveals shyly, "is that I'm very picky. In five years I've done only five films. I like to choose my roles carefully.There's no point in doing work that makes you unhappy. At the end of the day you've to look yourself in the eye."
Such convictionfor an actor who has been in the Tamil blockbuster Boys (2003) and the Telugu hit Nuvvostanante Nenodannatana, 2004. Siddharth is apparently being offered a feeclose to Rs.2 crores. But he isn't talking about his price, let alone doing the avalancheof films beingoffered to him. A tete-a-tete with the young actor.
Q: What prompted you to take on Rang De Basanti....your first Hindi film?
A: Interestingly, I was actually steering clear of industries other than Telugu when Mehra's office called, I was very non-committal. They sent me a bound script, and that's when things really took off. The moment I read it, I knew this was not a film to reject. In two days, I was a part of Rang de basanti. I was moved by the script, and felt Mehra was definitely on to something.
Q: Weren't you deterred by the fact that it was an ensemble piece, and the fact that Aamir would get centrestage?
A: I cannot possibly explain how exciting it is to hear the word ensemble piece with respect to Indian cinema. The most exciting aspect of RDB at a script stage was this very ambitiously equanimous treatment of all the protagonists. The reason I believed it could be pulled off was that Aamir was a part of it. Also, there is no centrestage in RDB. Its a huge stage, and all of us get to run around, just doing our own thing! It always hurt me when people said unfair, accusatory things about Aamir and his attitude towards his co-actors roles. RDB should go a long way in rubbishing these silly allegations. An individual like Aamir really does not deserve them.
Q: What was the experience of working with Rakeysh?
A: Mehra is at the cutting edge of two very important horizons. The first, is in the realm of heart-felt Indian storytelling. Mehra is Indian;...period. His food, his humour, his nostalgia, all swim in hardcore India juice. That's why the friends in RDB jump out from the screen and bite you. They exist, all over this huge country. The second area Mehra astonishes you in, is his craft. He is by far the most ambitious technical film maker in Indian cinema. In effect, he combines state of the art film wizardry with lorry art (horn please, ok!). As Mehra would put it, "stuff like that...".
Q: You are known as the Aamir of the South? Why have you done such a meagre body of work in five years? And do you really charge 2?
A: I am a bit of a paranoid actor. I started off as an assistant director to Mani Ratnam. Direction was passionately my ultimate dream. when I suddenly became a screen actor, I took a reality check, and promised myself to only commit to work that completely excited me. It isn't really my fault that such projects were very few in number. Also, I am building a cv of serious standing. Mani Ratnam, Shankar, Prabhu Deva, Rakesh Mehra,... these guys make going to work so much fun. I am only five films old; five good films. As for the 2 crores, it sounds lovely. I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds lovely.
Q: You stride two regions--Tamil Nadu and Andhra--and now Mumbai. Is that a comfortable position?
A: I'm actually exclusively with only the Telugu film industry. It's a huge, vibrant and warm place to work. Its the largest single state market in the country for motion pictures. I'm in a position there,where I can do what I really want. My last release was a film that I wrote myself. It gave me a lot of pleasure and did really well too. So yes, life is good. RDB hopefully should make things more fun! Good work is more than any actor can ask for. RDBshould do a bit in that direction for me.
Q: Tell me about yourself...where do you come from
A: I am a Tamil. My school education was spread over Delhi and Chennai. I did my B.Com (Hons) from KMC in Delhi Univ. I got my MBA from the S.P Jain institute of management in Mumbai. Then came the AD stint with Mani Rathnam for a couple of years. Acting happened by chance, and the rest is a blur.
Q: You're knownto be picky and pricey. Is that a reputation well deserved? Doesn't scarce work scare you?
A: Strangely, scarce work is a really welcome proposition. No work might be really frightening. Ihavent been there yet. Iwant to be proud of my films. It's much better to show your kids ten good films, than to make excuses to them about why you made twenty bad ones. Again, good and bad doesn't reflect commercial success. Ijudge films on how they justify my conviction in them. It's hugely gratifying when they do.
Q: Southern actors aren't known to be too successful in Bollywood...Do you think you can break that mould?
I havent made any plans yet. whether I do another Hindi film depends solely on the work I am offered post RDB. I am in no hurry to prove anything to anyone. I have two wonderful Telugu films lined up this year. A good hindi script would be a great icing on the cake. Lets see.
Q: Rang De Basanti is film about changing the status quo. Do you think cinema is capable of doing that?
A: Mehra has made a film that talks about how we complain all the time, but very few of us actually decide to do something about it. It applies to cinema in this country too. We spend all our time criticizing the way our films are made, and asking why no one is making a difference. Mehra has done something very important. He has backed his conviction and translated his dream to screen. Aamir has facilitated this glorious celluloid dream. If they are writing the new status quo, sign me up, I am with them all the way.
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